Beaches, Theme Parks and Runways: Florida is now America’s third most populous state—and an airline supermarket

In 1980, just as the U.S. airline industry was deregulating, Florida was the country’s seventh most populous state, with about 10m people. Today, with 20m people, it ranks No. 3, behind only California and Texas and slightly ahead of New York. Last year, Florida welcomed a record 117m visitors, including 14m from outside the U.S. This helped the state’s economy surpass $1t in GDP, larger than the economies of Switzerland, Saudia Arabia or Argentina. The state’s 18 major airports handled 87m passengers. Is Florida an important market for airlines? Better believe it.

Consider the world’s largest airline, American. More than a fifth of its seats touch Florida, according to Diio Mi schedule data, with no indication of any strategic desire to lower that figure. American, of course, has one of its primary hubs in Miami, the state’s busiest airport measured by flights if not seats—Orlando’s seat capacity is a bit higher. Miami is the foundation for American’s industry-leading presence in Latin America and the Caribbean, capitalizing on the city’s large immigrant population and status as a base for companies doing business in Latin America. For American, Miami’s giant tourism sector is a secondary driver of traffic. Florida in general grew in importance to American when it merged with US Airways, a carrier whose Charlotte hub was a top gateway for northeastern and midwestern tourists flying to Florida. Today, American continues to grow its Florida footprint, adding new Caribbean destinations and frequencies from Miami this winter, while perhaps plotting further expansion as a new U.S.-Brazil open skies agreement takes effect, and as LATAM becomes a joint venture partner. Miami, to be clear, lost some of its strength for American during the Brazilian recession, the collapse of Venezuela’s economy and other setbacks in the region. But trends have stabilized.

With larger transatlantic and transpacific networks anchored at hubs elsewhere in the country, Delta doesn’t depend as much on Florida as American. But with about 12% of its systemwide seat capacity touching the state, it’s hardly unimportant. Delta doesn’t have a hub in Florida, but Atlanta is the world’s busiest airport in large part thanks to Delta’s massive volumes of Florida traffic flowing through it. Delta’s New York hubs too, and even its Detroit and Minneapolis hubs, produce a lot of travelers…

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